CONCORD — A matter of weeks changed Jenny Purvis' life.
Garnet Valley hired her in August 2012 as a health and physical education teacher and Purvis, a two-sport high school All-American, figured she'd be an instant asset to the girls lacrosse coach. The only problem was that Garnet Valley didn't have a coach.
Just like that, Purvis went from willing volunteer to front-running candidate for the Jaguars' coaching gig.
"In six weeks, really,' Purvis said. "I have it written in my old, little planner: ' Last meeting.' Then, as I'm driving away, I got the call, ' Congratulations.' I remember saying, ' Oh boy. Now I have this, this and this to do.''
Purvis was thrust into an unenviable spot, and one in which few can claim experience. She was asked to take over a Garnet Valley program that had won consecutive PIAA crowns, in the 2011 and 2012 seasons, under Kate Henwood — who departed her alma mater a month prior to Purvis' arrival to accept the top job at University of California-Davis.
No problem. Right?
"We were all strangers,' said attack Erica Coyne. "(Purvis) was a stranger to us, we were strangers to her. That year of getting to know one another helped.'
That year, the one to which Coyne referred, was Purvis' first on the job. That year ended sans PIAA Tournament berth. Twelve months later, with a season of cohesion under its belt, Garnet Valley will play in the state title game for the third time in four seasons.
Central League champion Garnet Valley (23-2) will take on District One champion Springfield (24-2) in Saturday's PIAA final at HersheyPark Stadium, in a rematch of last month's district title game.
The Jaguars will accept nothing short of a championship.
"I'm starting to tear up now,' said defender Molly Savage. "It makes me so emotional. All I've wanted was to get back there and get that feeling back.'
Unlike other sports teams, some of which dangle championship rings as a reward for winning Pennsylvania's top prize, the girls lacrosse players at Garnet Valley aren't expecting anything in return should they win Saturday. They said they got rings after claiming the 2012 title, but ...
"Who cares?' Savage said. "Mine is still in its box.'
The school has been known to issue T-shirts, or call an assembly to congratulate the players, which are all superfluous acknowledgements of the true accomplishment.
"We want this,' attack Haley Warden said. "That's all that matters.'
It may have required a year devoid of state-playoff games and the necessary vetting process of their new coach, but the Jaguars have climbed back into the conversation as a PIAA power.
There were pitfalls.
Purvis inherited a team that had won two straight state crowns, but had lost three all-Americans to graduation in the process. A 2011 Penn State alumna, who played field hockey in her time at State College, Purvis has an eye for talent. She was an All-American lacrosse and field hockey player during her days at Hatboro-Horsham High School.
Naturally, though, Purvis would need time.
"I didn't know who we lost, who we had. I had heard through the grapevine, and I knew coaching previously that Garnet Valley was a good team, but I didn't know the full extent — that they had been back-to-back state champions and had all of these All-Americans and All-Delco kids,' Purvis said.
"They told me, ' Here's the team. They've lost most of their starters. They want to win states again. Good luck.' It was nerve-wracking to say the least.'
Purvis kept the team together by leaning on the holdovers she had at the ready. Four of them are four-season varsity players. Warden, the all-everything attack, was the linchpin for Purvis' first team. Savage and Coyne both would earn significant bumps in playing time, as well as adopting leadership responsibilities. And Paige Mitros, the backup goalie on those title teams, would get the starting nod between the pipes.
With those pieces in place, Purvis fielded a 2013 Garnet Valley squad that fell short of the PIAA playoffs.
"Even if our previous coach didn't leave,' Savage said, "it was going to be a transition year. Just how it is.'
For Year 2, and with a full offseason with which to work, Purvis turned her focus to conditioning.
Fueled by their district-playoff defeat in 2013, a one-goal letdown against Radnor, the Jaguars committed to fitness. By Purvis' logic, good health would produce a good team, and good teams produce victories in tight games. So her players spent days in August and September toiling in the late-summer sun, running and running and running some more. In the winter months, they were working out four times a week.
"The difference (between Henwood and Purvis) in the conditioning and the intensity in practice is just so much higher. It's better. It got us much, much further this year,' said Savage, a Drexel commit. "I think it was an adjustment for everyone. ... It was very rare, very, if we went a day without sprints or something.'
All of that conditioning has led to this, a Thursday afternoon practice at Moe DeFrank Stadium with more levity than structure. A year earlier, they were reading about the state championship game, and not preparing for one.
Thanks to Purvis, the Jaguars bit the bullet for one season and earned a trip back to Hershey the next.
"We were worried we wouldn't get another good coach like Henwood,' Mitros said, "and we ended up getting a great coach.'